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Revolutions of a Lifetime at Home and Abroad


“If you want to make enemies, try to change something,” President Woodrow Wilson cautioned. Before Christopher Columbus sailed to America, people believed the world was flat. Virginia Satir talks about the burden of seeing new possibilities for our lives and the world and the courage to make dreams come true.

The World is Flat
For thousands of years before Columbus, people believed the world was flat.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

— Abraham Lincoln
December 1, 1862

by Seth Eisenberg

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something,” President Woodrow Wilson cautioned half a century after his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, struggled to inspire a divided Congress.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” Lincoln said.

Long before either reached the pinnacle of power and leadership, President Thomas Jefferson recognized, “Every generation needs a new revolution.”

Lincoln’s wise words, Wilson’s caution, and Jefferson’s spirit remain very much alive. From Cairo to Tripoli, Rome to Madison, people are today rising up from their sofas, papers, and hookahs to collectively demand new opportunities, freedoms, and solutions for life and liberty.

Revolutions are not just about the courage of protesters who wake up one day committed to never again surrender the potential of their lives, even in the face of death, imprisonment, or exile. Innovations and breakthrough technologies that forever change our world are also inspired by more quiet revolutions among those who see new possibilities and embrace their own courage and passion to swim against the tide of the day or a generation.

Revolution can also be about being a more loving husband or devoted father. Revolutions can lead to new strategies for a world in which no veteran or any other person is homeless or trapped in the cycle of poverty and despair, that no one dies from preventable diseases, and that homes are islands of peace, stability, and love.

For much of my life, I’ve watched and often participated in the revolution to empower every human being with the knowledge and skills to strengthen harmony within ourselves and our closest relationships as the foundation for dreams come true. More than a quarter century after our mission became clear, overcoming outdated approaches and entrenched agendas remains an ongoing challenge that I gratefully and eagerly embrace.

A story told by in 1984 by Virginia Satir, the pioneer of relationship and marriage education, captured challenges and feelings common to every revolution. Daily reports of those across the globe who risk much on behalf of their dreams is a reminder to find and embrace the courage to breathe life into the dreams we cherish.

At the Crossroads of Change

by Virginia Satir

Virginia Satir
Virginia Satir

This story has to do with Christopher Columbus. I take liberties with some of the events of history, but never with the essence.

Once upon a time, the whole world knew that the world was flat. All the navigation, astronomy, and the starting premise of all the PhD’s worked on the basis that the world was flat.

One day in Portugal there was a young, unemployed sailor named Christopher Columbus. Since he was unemployed, he had a lot of time on his hands. And since he was young, he could be curious.

He watched the ships and began to notice that the ships went in an arc. He had never noticed that before. He thought, “That’s impossible because the world is flat. They should fall off the end.”

Columbus kept watching the ships until he finally said to himself, “The world must be wrong.”

That was a frightening thought.

Here he was, just this young unemployed sailor, a pip squeak. How could he think that all the great minds of the world were wrong?

But he saw. And what he saw didn’t fit with the accepted wisdom of the world.

So he had this inside himself, this observation. It became a great burden. What was he going to do with it?

Like most of us when we have such a thing, we want to find out if we’re crazy or not. So we try to find out if someone else has seen what we’ve seen.

Columbus walked among his friends and started to talk. At the beginning, many had glazed eyes and walked right past him.

Finally, one of his friends said, “I saw it too.”

They dug a big hole and went down into that hole because they had a terrible burden. It’s a terribly scary thing to be against the tide.

Eventually, others came and said they had seen it too. And they talked down in this deep hole. Once somebody else has seen what you saw, the burden gets even greater because you have to do something about it. You cannot stop.

But to bring something to the world that is not there is a great risk.

They finally got up their courage and decided they would take the risk to see what the world is really like. Since they were all curious and poor, one of them came up with the idea to ask Queen Isabella.

Queen Isabella Meets Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus meets the Queen.

Now Queen Isabella turned out to be the kind of character who really didn’t care if the world was flat or round, but she responded well to nice guys.

So when they came to ask her, she said, “Sure, here’s the money. Take it to see what you can find.”

You know the history. They made three ships and they found out that the world indeed was not flat. It was elliptical.

Now I know that caused great consternation because it meant that navigation had to be revamped, astronomy had to be revamped, virtually all the material and information in light of this new finding had to be revamped.

Do you suppose that happened immediately? I don’t think so. I think that there were people who resisted all over the place.

People also resisted when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. At the time, they knew he was a witch and that his invention was witchcraft in its manifestation. When Edison developed the light bulb and electricity, the same charges were leveled against him.

Anybody who brings in anything new stands the chance of being raked over the coals and sometimes killed, as they’ve been in the past.

It took a while before all of the other observations were updated to meet the new information. However, if today you would meet someone who says the world is flat, you wouldn’t get upset inside, you’d just think they’re a little bonkers because you know better.

Now let me tell you what I think.

I think that up until this time of the world we have behaved as though people were two-dimensional, really flat. Something to be moved around, controlled, and owned.

And what we have now found is that people are round. And we are calling that roundness, that approach to people, humanistic. We found out something about what humans are like.

One of the things that’s important to remember is that Columbus didn’t invent the round world and I and the people like me certainly didn’t invent round people. We just found out that they’re round.

That for me is where we are today.

We’re at a crossroads, an important crossroads of how we view people. That’s why it’s possible now for all the different kind of therapies to go into education, education for being more fully human, using what we know as a pathology is only something that tells us that something is wrong and then allows us to move towards how we can we use this to develop round people.

I’m fortunate in being one of the people who pushed my way through to know that people are really round. That’s what it means to me to look at people as people who have potential that can be realized, as people who can have dreams and have their dreams work out.

What people bring to me in the guise of problems are their ways of living that keep them hampered and pathologically oriented. What we’re doing now is seeing how education allows us to move toward more joy, more reality, more connectedness, more accomplishment and more opportunities for people to grow.

From a presentation by the late Virginia Satir to PAIRS Professional Training, Washington, DC, September 1984. Edited by Seth Eisenberg.

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